A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words? Well, Not Always – OpEd


There can be no two views that the monstrous humanitarian crisis precipitated by the Taliban’s forcible takeover of Afghanistan is fast spiraling out of control.  Though there is global unanimity that the hapless people of war-torn Afghanistan are in dire need of succor, the international community has not been able to arrive at any consensus on a concerted plan to provide emergency aid. Resultantly, we are seeing heart wrenching visuals and reading tear jerking reports of how scarcity of food and other essential items has become a life- threatening reality in Afghanistan. 

When viewed through the prism of emotionality, it appears that the international community has abdicated moral responsibility by its failure to ameliorate the suffering of the impoverished people of Afghanistan by providing them humanitarian assistance. However, there’s a flip side too. How can the any type of assistance be provided to a country whose leaders have not only usurped power through force of arms but have also outrightly rejected the international community’s reasonable demand for forming an ‘inclusive’ government in Kabul by inclusion of members of minority ethnic groups? 

But things don’t end here. Kabul has also made it abundantly clear that it’s in no mood to accept UN resolutions and universally accepted standards on issues like gender equality, rights or modern jurisprudence. Though it may claim otherwise, but with visuals of surrendered Afghan National Army soldiers been murdered, a corpse dangling from a flying helicopter, or dead bodies of alleged kidnappers being suspended from cranes for public viewing, it’s quite apparent that Taliban of today is much the same as it was two decades ago. This assessment is further vindicated by credible reports of continuing extrajudicial killings of people associated with the previous regime or coalition forces as well as the recent incident of people listening to music [banned by Taliban] during a wedding being shot dead.

It could well be argued that even though the Taliban government may be despotic and unyielding, but making humanitarian aid contingent to their acceptance of internationally acceptable laws and conventions is tantamount to punishing the people for the ‘sins’ of their rulers. This viewpoint has great merit and this is the harsh reality. However, another associated ugly truth is that providing unconditional aid to Afghanistan will in effect, actually end up strengthening the Taliban’s hand in running its repressive writ. Moreover, with the Taliban announcing its ‘food for work’ programme, there are bright chances that food items provided as international aid would end up being used as ‘currency’ by Kabul to pay its employees and fighters, thus depriving the real sufferers. 

However, despite serious shortcomings and the extremely high probability of its diversion by Kabul, humanitarian aid can’t be held hostage to Taliban’s obduracy. Nor can the excuse of preventing mass starvation be used by the international community to abdicate its collective responsibility for preventing persecution of minorities and ensuring basic human rights to the people of Afghanistan as guaranteed by UN charter. 

So, there’s a need to evolve a balanced approach that fulfills the humanitarian requirements as well as compels the Taliban to respect international laws and conventions.  One such workable via media could be distribution of aid under the watch of a UN monitoring agency so as to guard against its diversion or misuse. After all, no country would like the aid it has provided being doled out to those who beat up women protesters or shoot people listening to music! 

The broad outline of this option is that the Taliban government suballocates foreign aid received to various provinces/areas and undertake its physical distribution. UN observers only physically monitor the latter to ensure that the needy receive the same. Since this proposal doesn’t entail any foreign interference in the internal aid distribution scheme within Afghanistan, the Taliban cannot cite sovereignty issues for rejecting this plan. With fighters and not administrators at the helm of affairs and given the Taliban’s past record of financial impropriety while fighting the Soviets, apprehensions of aid being siphoned off are live. So, presence of a neutral UN Monitoring agency for ensuring judicious aid distribution is inescapable, and should be insisted upon. 

Even though it may sound insensitive, the reality is that while there is undoubtedly a massive humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the Taliban too is overplaying the emotional card so that it can get unconditional access to foreign aid without taking any reciprocatory actions like respecting international laws and honouring individual rights. A few days ago, news reports purportedly originating from [or sourced to] Afghanistan, mentioned of how cash strapped locals were being forced to sell off their minor daughters. Just the other day, a heart wrenching video showing such a repugnant transaction took social media by storm with people imploring the international community to act post haste so as to end this abhorrent trend.

This video deserves special mention as it captures the entire event- from money being laid down for the ‘purchase’, to the reluctant girl being handed over by the mother to an aged male who is accompanied by a woman. It ends with the girl departing and being nudged to move on as she appears to be unwilling to leave her home and parents. While this tear-jerker video is bound to melt even the most hardened hearts, what defies explanation is to who filmed it? Logically speaking, only three parties could have been involved- one, the minor girl’s parents; two, the ‘buyer’ and three, an outsider. 

Even in Taliban controlled Afghanistan, sale of humans is illegal, due to which the buyer or seller of the girl certainly wouldn’t film an act that could lead to their corpses hanging from cranes at a public square. Similarly, they wouldn’t have allowed a third person to record evidence that could precipitate their extinction. So, its obvious that this video is nothing more than publicity material for emotional blackmail to secure foreign aid.

[Even though there’s no evidence to conclusively prove who made this video, but it certainly has many characteristics that bear striking similarities with publicity material produced by Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR]- like shooting of the entire sequence using multiple cameras, excellent choreography and remarkable editing!]

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

2 thoughts on “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words? Well, Not Always – OpEd

  • November 4, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    Dear Sir
    A well written article.. but my few points for consideration:-
    1. You can help only those people who accept help.. simply giving out aid just for heck of keeping them alive (against starvation) won’t help at all. The locals themselves have to start doing something about it first.. then expect help.
    2. Giving aid now would mean unofficially recognition and acceptance of Taliban… do we want it ?
    3. Simply giving humanitarian aid would mean prolonged misery for the population. Most will be satisfied with two meals a day and staying alive and enduring the repression rather than stand up against it.
    4. Though it would appear extremism but the locals have to suffer enough so that gain strength to willfully defy the Taliban as a last step… once this strength is displayed then aid: humanitarian, financial and military should be provided. Such aid will be more respectable and helpful as it will ensure they stand on their feet with self respect and ensure sustained peace in the society.
    5. Just giving them aid now would mean prolonged misery…….

  • November 4, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    The promise made by the Taliban was – – “To restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.” So are these monstrous cruel extrajudicial killings by the Taliban the version of their Sharia law.“With love you could persuade a Pathan to go to Hell, but by force you couldn’t even take him to Heaven.” was a common saying but is it true today ?The UN the world body and others have tried force and friendly oburtures but have they succeeded over the years? The UN and the US aid has been grossly misused over the decades.Once bitten twice shy the UN has to ensure if aid is provided it should reach the deserving people and the nations which encouraged the Taliban takeover need to answer for the present Afghanistan mess is in.Photos do not lie.


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